Sam Harris and Buddhism

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nathan
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Re: Sam Harris and Buddhism

Post by nathan » Wed Mar 11, 2009 3:16 am

There is what is easy to like. Apart from that I have serious concerns and I am not in agreement with him on key points. I think it is reasonable for us to challenge Harris' thinking particularly on violence and torture as long as his ethics are presented as in any way representative or reflective of buddhist doctrines. I think he is grasping at forms of potential legitimacy to underpin some of his irrationality. I looks like his cake needs longer to bake in regards to the natures of both kusala and akusala cetasikas. Maybe someone can quote him at greater length. I'm sure we can provide a well reasoned buddhist critique of where his reasoning falls short of right view and right action and this is likely one reason why he lacks various forms of linearly progressive experiential awareness of the real nature of various active processes and their progressive resultant kammas or the resulting insights and right understandings.

Sam Harris's Faith in Eastern Spirituality and Muslim Torture By John Gorenfeld, AlterNet. Posted January 5, 2007.
http://www.alternet.org/story/46196" onclick="window.open(this.href);return false;
But we spend much of our time discussing his call for torture and his Buddhist perspectives on "compassionately killing the bad guy."


...in chapter 6, "A Science of Good & Evil [The End of Faith]," he devotes several pages to upholding the "judicial torture" of Muslims, a practice for which "reasonable men and women" have come out.


While our soldiers are waging war on Islam in our detention centers, according to Harris, our civilians must evolve past churchgoing to "modern spiritual practice," he writes. "[M]ysticism is a rational enterprise," he writes in his book, arguing it lets spiritualists "uncover genuine facts about the world." And he tells AlterNet there are "social pressures" against research into ESP.

Society is remarkably free, however, in airing justifications for putting Muslims to the thumbscrews. Harris's case for torture is this: since "we" are OK with horrific collateral damage, "we" should have no qualms against waterboarding, the lesser evil. "It's better than death." Better, in other words, than bombing innocents.


Legendary for his role in the Scopes Monkey Trial, American attorney Clarence Darrow wrote of his admiration for his forbearer Voltaire, the original 18th-century renegade against the church. He thanked Voltaire for dealing superstition a "mortal wound" -- and for an end to torture. "Among the illustrious heroes who have banished this sort of cruelty from the Western world, no other name will stand so high and shine so bright."

And then among those who want to bring it back, there stands Sam Harris.

"They're not talking," Harris is telling me, imagining a torture scenario where the captives clam up, "quite amused at our unwillingness to make them uncomfortable."

No, it's not the sticky (and real) case of Jose Padilla, the detainee who may have been reduced by his treatment to mind mush, possibly ruining his trial. Instead he's sketching out a kind of Steven Seagal action movie scenario in which we lasso Osama or his gang, maybe on the eve of a terror plot. What to do?

"We should say we don't do it," Harris says of torture. "We should say it's reprehensible." And then do it anyway, he says.

So there it is. In Harris's vision of future America, we will pursue "personal transformation" and gaze into our personal "I-we" riddles, while the distant gurgles of Arabs, terrified by the threat of drowning, will drift into our Eastern-influenced sacred space, the government's press releases no more than soothing Zen koans.
But whoever walking, standing, sitting, or lying down overcomes thought, delighting in the stilling of thought: he's capable, a monk like this, of touching superlative self-awakening. § 110. {Iti 4.11; Iti 115}

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Ben
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Re: Sam Harris and Buddhism

Post by Ben » Wed Mar 11, 2009 3:32 am

Hi Nathan

I agree, there is some of Harris' arguments that I find very difficult and deeply challenging, in particular his arguments for pre-emptive strike against militant muslim nations and the use of torture. Having said that, I still think we should listen to those voices who present views divergent to our own which are challenging. What Harris portrays in presenting such an argument is the seriousness, complexity and intractability of the geo-political situation we now find ourselves in.

And I don;t mean to quarantine his views regarding meditation, the transcendent experience and the dominant christian culture of the west but they are also worthy of attention. I should make it clear that Sam Harris isn't a Buddhist, or using Mawkish's nomenclature, an 'invisible Buddhist'. So i think it is potentially unwise to judge him assuming he is Buddhist.
Metta

Ben
“No lists of things to be done. The day providential to itself. The hour. There is no later. This is later. All things of grace and beauty such that one holds them to one's heart have a common provenance in pain. Their birth in grief and ashes.”
- Cormac McCarthy, The Road

Learn this from the waters:
in mountain clefts and chasms,
loud gush the streamlets,
but great rivers flow silently.
- Sutta Nipata 3.725

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pink_trike
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Re: Sam Harris and Buddhism

Post by pink_trike » Wed Mar 11, 2009 3:47 am

Tex wrote:
Ben wrote:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=J3YOIImOoYM" onclick="window.open(this.href);return false;
Thanks for posting this. :thumbsup:
Vision is Mind
Mind is Empty
Emptiness is Clear Light
Clear Light is Union
Union is Great Bliss

- Dawa Gyaltsen

---

Disclaimer: I'm a non-religious practitioner of Theravada, Mahayana/Vajrayana, and Tibetan Bon Dzogchen mind-training.

nathan
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Re: Sam Harris and Buddhism

Post by nathan » Wed Mar 11, 2009 4:36 am

I'm not making any judgements Ben. These are concerns raised by what little I have seen of the critique. Based on what little I have read I do think his ethics are rationally flawed and that I can demonstrate that either with or without resort to buddhist doctrine in a rational way. That is why his advocacy of violence is flawed and his views on meritorious kamma are skewed. I suspect his understanding of buddhism and his ethics would be better represented by his writing so if someone can post something more definitive it would help. I don't have adequate network access for video bitstreams and only very very low bandwidth audio. I'm not inclined to buy his books but I am not passing any judgments. Within his cultural context his voice is reflective of a real if somewhat varied constituency I am sure. There were similar intellectual movements under past conditions similar to those in play today. They can go either way.

A serious military analyst would find his thinking laughable. Here is one I have found who's analysis is astute.
http://www.gwynnedyer.com/" onclick="window.open(this.href);return false;
But whoever walking, standing, sitting, or lying down overcomes thought, delighting in the stilling of thought: he's capable, a monk like this, of touching superlative self-awakening. § 110. {Iti 4.11; Iti 115}

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Ben
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Re: Sam Harris and Buddhism

Post by Ben » Wed Mar 11, 2009 4:59 am

Thanks Nathan

I appreciate your point of view. I'm not familiar with Gwynne Dyer - did he respond to Harris?
Metta

Ben
“No lists of things to be done. The day providential to itself. The hour. There is no later. This is later. All things of grace and beauty such that one holds them to one's heart have a common provenance in pain. Their birth in grief and ashes.”
- Cormac McCarthy, The Road

Learn this from the waters:
in mountain clefts and chasms,
loud gush the streamlets,
but great rivers flow silently.
- Sutta Nipata 3.725

Compassionate Hands Foundation (Buddhist aid in Myanmar) • Buddhist Global ReliefUNHCR

e: ben.dhammawheel@gmail.com..

nathan
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Re: Sam Harris and Buddhism

Post by nathan » Wed Mar 11, 2009 5:52 am

Not that I am aware of Ben. But I'm sure that debunking Harris thinking on torture and the use of force would be a no-brainer for him. It would be for me thanks at least in part to him. That's my conclusion. Not that the critique of fundamentalism isn't necessary. It could always be more skillful however. Perhaps someday when I feel bulletproof I will get to it. :quote:
But whoever walking, standing, sitting, or lying down overcomes thought, delighting in the stilling of thought: he's capable, a monk like this, of touching superlative self-awakening. § 110. {Iti 4.11; Iti 115}

Mawkish1983
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Re: Sam Harris and Buddhism

Post by Mawkish1983 » Wed Mar 11, 2009 3:24 pm

Ben wrote:Mawkish's nomenclature
I've coined a phrase? Wow, in terms of dissolution of ego this is one step forwards and two steps back!

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clw_uk
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Re: Sam Harris and Buddhism

Post by clw_uk » Wed Mar 11, 2009 7:51 pm

Thanks for that vid tex, i think i can understand what he means now, if something is ultimately true then it must transcend culture (i.e. its not christian physics since its true not matter who or where you are) which of course is what the Dhamma is, the truth of the way it is


I think he means that it needs to be removed from the percieved notion of belonging to a certain culture or being thought of as just another belief system, which if i am correct in understanding what he means, i actually kinda agree with



p.s. there is another good video of his here (if this breaks some kind of copyright please remove it)


http://www.jewishtvnetwork.com/?bcpid=5 ... 1329234778" onclick="window.open(this.href);return false;
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Ravana
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Re: Sam Harris and Buddhism

Post by Ravana » Fri Mar 13, 2009 5:55 am

I also think that it is the intention that matters. When you are practicing meditation to relieve your day-to-day ailments you are doing 'meditation'; when you're doing it to escape samsara, you're practicing 'Buddhist meditation'. I think Sam Harris is referring to the former. In any case, he's a brilliant guy to read to and listen to - clear and articulate. I think he attracts some negative criticism from many atheists for his pro/agnostic view of reincarnation/rebirth.
“The incomparable Wheel of Dhamma has been set in motion by the Blessed One in the deer sanctuary at Isipatana, and no seeker, brahmin, celestial being, demon, god, or any other being in the world can stop it.”

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clw_uk
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Re: Sam Harris and Buddhism

Post by clw_uk » Fri Mar 13, 2009 12:29 pm

I think he attracts some negative criticism from many atheists for his pro/agnostic view of reincarnation/rebirth.
He does, some atheist chat forums are quite criticial of him for this
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thecap
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Re: Sam Harris and Buddhism

Post by thecap » Fri Mar 13, 2009 1:04 pm

You don't have to become a "Buddhist" to discern the four noble truths, cause & effect, dependent origination.

Buddhadhasa and others have shown that one can see Buddhism as a science.

Without basic discernment however, one can get attached to meditation, and it then quickly becomes an ego-trip.

In other words, anyone can practise "meditation".

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Karma Dondrup Tashi
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Re: Sam Harris and Buddhism

Post by Karma Dondrup Tashi » Fri Mar 13, 2009 8:45 pm

He's a reasonably intelligent atheist. Does that make him an expert on meditation, or Buddhism?

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Avery
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Re: Sam Harris and Buddhism

Post by Avery » Sat Mar 14, 2009 3:21 am

I recommend this book to put Sam Harris in some perspective:

http://www.amazon.com/Dont-Believe-Athe ... culturf-20" onclick="window.open(this.href);return false;

Someone told me to watch a video of his, so I obliged. He began by apologizing for being frank about religion, then went on to say that at most public forums in America it is taboo to criticize religion and this needed to change. "Well," I thought, "there's a reason for that... just like how you don't want to bring up politics when you visit your friends on the other side of the country. Ideologies can be firmly held and prone to heated emotion, and that's just human nature." I consider it both acceptable and useful to hear criticisms of what Buddhists do, but if someone just says "the dharma is shit and anyone who tries to follow it is wasting their time," which is basically what Christopher Hitchens does in his book, I think that is offensive; he has the freedom to say it, but it's not helpful and doesn't belong in a public forum. So, Sam Harris started out on a bad foot.

He went on to talk about absurd claims people make about specific cults. And his argument struck me as little more than pure smugness. He was describing a Hindu guru movement, which is something that is quite common in India, but I highly doubt he had actually met with any of the members of this cult, lived with their families, or asked them to describe the influence it had on their lives. He most likely just read something in a book or on the Internet and brought that to his talk. He said, "this cult has 1 million followers, and they're all deluded". Who exactly is supposed to benefit from that statement? I think the purpose of saying that is to make atheists feel better about themselves, and nothing else. If it gets religious people angry the atheists will only feel even better.

People should be free to live their lives according to whatever ideology they think suitable, be it Buddhism, Christianity, Marxism, or humanism. And people should be allowed to criticize freely the fruits of these ideologies. But there is absolutely nothing helpful to claim that "if it's not atheist, it can't be good". There are many things atheists have done that are not good, and there are many things done in the name of religion that are good. So, I would disagree strongly that the qualifier "Buddhist" should be dropped from meditation. If you lose the Buddhist ideology, it simply becomes something that you are being told to do without any reason why. We know what "just sit" means in the context of Zen, but if that context is discarded we might as well be saying "just pray", or "just daydream", or "just sleep", and calling that a mental practice. That is scarcely beneficial to anyone.

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Re: Sam Harris and Buddhism

Post by green » Sat Mar 14, 2009 1:49 pm

The 4 Noble Truths are truths because they are universal, Buddhism is universal because Buddha is. Why not call it Buddhism?

After all, Fibonacci numbers are named after Fibonacci,
Newtonian physics is named after Newton.

Buddhism is Buddhism because of the Triple Gem and the teachings of Buddha. The Triple Gem is the 4th Noble Truth.

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